House Democrats Unveil $3 Trillion Virus Aid Package

The proposal includes another round of direct payments to Americans plus nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks about the Heroes Act on Tuesday. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Upping aid for Americans caught between a rock and a hard place during the Covid-19 pandemic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed new legislation Tuesday that would pump $3 trillion into the hamstrung economy.

“We face the biggest catastrophe in our nation’s history,” Pelosi said while announcing the legislative package on Capitol Hill.

Much like the scope of the problem facing America, the legislation known as the Herores Act is also massive, clocking in at over 1,800 pages. According to a summary released Tuesday, the bill comes with a long list of allocations for struggling states as well as local and tribal governments.

As of Tuesday, over 80,000 Americans are dead from Covid-19 — the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus — and over 1.3 million are infected. More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment and the uncertainty and fear that families continue to face over things like food or job security is substantial, Pelosi said. 

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot touched on the palpability of the stress people are facing during a regular Covid-19 briefing held Tuesday afternoon at City Hall.  A report issued Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found over 5,000 “excess deaths” recorded in New York City from the middle of March through early May.

“We know that stress kills,” Barbot said. “And certainly if you’ve got a chronic underlying illness, you’ve got prolonged stress that can contribute to premature mortality.”

Pelosi said the way out of the pandemic is through an effective combination of “testing, treatment and social distancing.”

“We must do so in a way that addresses the disparities we have seen so we can address the full extent of the coronavirus and defeat it,” she said.

One way to do that is to ensure that people have the resources to survive, according to the House speaker.

The bill sets aside some $500 billion for state governments while local authorities would receive $375 billion in aid. Tribes and U.S. territories would get $20 billion each and roughly $175 billion would be set aside in a special emergency fund held for public health and social services.

Of that $175 billion, according to the legislation, relief would be set aside for those struggling to pay rent or mortgages in light of the pandemic.

Another round of direct stimulus payments — $1,200 per individual and up to $6,000 per household — is also included in the relief proposal.  

“There are those who said let’s just pause, but the families who are suffering know hunger doesn’t take a pause, rent doesn’t take a pause, the hardship of losing a job or tragically losing a loved one doesn’t take a pause,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

As more states begin to reopen this month and next, House Democrats believe the package will be a useful tool to expand national testing capacity. The Heroes Act includes a $75 billion stipend specifically for such initiatives.

Essential workers logging more than 1,000 hours annually in fields like health care, transportation, food production and public safety and maintenance would also be cushioned with the introduction of a hazard pay fund totaling $200 billion.

The bill also aims to force action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Within a week of the law’s passage in the House and Senate, the agency would be required to issue “strong enforceable standards” aimed at building out infection control plans in places of business. Those plans would be rooted in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and would also include language preventing employers from retaliating against workers who log complaints about infection problems in the workplace.

There is also funding for Congress itself tucked into the bill. Just $5 million is proposed for the House to purchase laptops and satellite phones that will allow them to better legislate during the pandemic. While this provision would beef up Wi-Fi and satellite bandwidth for lawmakers, it is relatively infinitesimal compared to the $1.5 billion proposed for the enhancement of national broadband hotspots, a resource that has become increasingly critical as people continue to work and study from home.

Small businesses are also included in the Heroes Act with $10 billion in relief, and the U.S. Postal Service would receive a $25 billion infusion.

It is exceedingly unlikely, however, that the bill in its current form will become law. Too many of its elements run contrary to the positions of Senate Republicans, who have balked at the notion of distributing yet another massive tranche of funds.

Even if the bill somehow managed to pass both the House and Senate, President Donald Trump would almost certainly veto it. Last month, Trump threatened to veto the $2 trillion CARES Act relief package if it included any support for the cash-strapped Postal Service.

Trump has bristled at funding the agency, frequently criticizing it as being taken advantage of by Amazon. The president sees the retail giant as an enemy because its founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, which Trump has lambasted for its coverage of his presidency.

The House is expected to vote Friday on the Heroes Act.

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